Koenders and Aung San Suu Kyi open new chapter in Myanmar

Today, foreign minister Bert Koenders opened a new Dutch embassy in Yangon, Myanmar. It is the first time in nearly 50 years that the Netherlands has an embassy in the Asian country. ‘This is the right moment to strengthen our ties,’ Mr Koenders said at the opening ceremony.

Mr Koenders’ trip to Myanmar is the first visit by a Dutch cabinet minister since their new government took office. In a meeting with foreign minister Aung San Suu Kyi earlier in the day, Mr Koenders expressed his support for democratic developments there. He affirmed the Netherlands’ intention to provide support to the peace process through various channels. Mr Koenders also shared his concerns about the situation of the Muslim minority that identifies as Rohingya in Rakhine State, calling on the government to put an end to human rights violations in the state.

The embassy will work to further enhance economic relations. ‘On the one hand, the Netherlands is keen to contribute to the economic development of one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia. On the other, Myanmar’s need for good water/delta management, clean drinking water, navigable rivers and better defences against natural disasters offers great opportunities for Dutch businesses,’ Mr Koenders remarked. The minister announced that the Netherlands had earmarked €3 million to support food programmes in Myanmar. Since the decision in 2013 to intensify economic diplomacy, trade with the country has tripled.

‘By opening this embassy, the Netherlands hopes to contribute to the country’s democratic transition and economic development,’ the minister said. ‘This way, we can work better with civil society groups in Myanmar and make a difference when it comes to human rights. This is why the Netherlands has committed €1.3 million to supporting human rights projects in Myanmar in 2016 and 2017.’ One of these projects is an initiative by the human rights organisation NIMD to boost the democratic capacity of political parties in several of Myanmar’s states. The Netherlands is also offering a training course for the country’s diplomats and military officers on the subject of democratisation and the rule of law.

As a gesture of support for the country’s political transition, the Netherlands has also decided that it will use the name ‘Myanmar’ exclusively from now on, instead of the country’s former name, ‘Burma’. ‘Myanmar’ has been in use since 1989, when it was introduced by the military regime that then ruled the country. Internal dissidents long opposed the new name, but it has since achieved wide acceptance, including by Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.